Living Unbound: Shifting Attention Technique

The so-called “last mile” to freedom from any addiction comes from the power the addiction is perceived to have over us. The technique below is not intended to replace any needed medical advice or medical care which may be needed. However, at any level of addictive experience or perception, a  simple shift in attention can make a vast degree of difference in our level of success in stepping free from the thought-patterns which hold the addiction in place. It is also a great technique for any circumstance where obsessive worry, unpleasant memories or disturbing imagination may be occurring.

When we’re trying to break out of any kind of  addictive-thinking pattern like this, and we have a strong craving for the object of our addiction, which can include addiction to the obsessive thinking or worry itself, if we can turn our attention to something other than our obsessive thinking about the craving for  at least 15-20 minutes, the craving will subside.

The cynical thinking mind doesn’t believe this is true. However, anyone who has put it to the test, knows that it is true. The fears and worries which drive addictive cravings are what cause us to act on the cravings, and even a few minutes of breaking the “feedback loop” can help addictive cravings to disappear for hours. If enough of these cycle-breaks are put together and practiced regularly, this can literally make the difference between active addiction continuing, and enjoying freedom from that addiction. Applied in conjunction with the other teachings and techniques of Living Unbound, it can help us shift permanently from dreaming-bound in addictive thinking (of whatever type, even the socially-sanctioned fears connected with relationships, family, money and so on) to Living Unbound in reality.

The craving may return soon, or it may not. This depends on the presence of triggers, and how susceptible we may be to  evaluating and reacting to those triggers. However, just shifting attention to something other than our obsessive thinking at such points, is amazingly effective in dissolving our sense of craving, every time we’re willing to actually do this.

This technique works with breaking mind-conditioned emotional reactions, as well. There is a point when many of us may feel sudden anger or sadness, or possibly disappointment, or frustration or fear, because what is actually happening or not happening is different than our conditioning tells us should be the case.  This can even take the form of emotional reactions to evaluations about circumstances that have already happened, or that are imagined to have happened, or even that are imagined might possibly happen. Our emotional reactions are always to our evaluations, rather than to the reality of a given circumstance. Physiology and emotions follow evaluation, or lack thereof; not cirumstances.

And so, if we can shift our attention to something other than the evaluations in our thinking that are generating the unhappiness, the unhappiness automatically dissolves. Automatically. It’s the way consciousness and perception actually work. If we’re looking at a computer screen, or printed page, we’re not looking behind where we’re sitting. If we turn around and look behind us, we’re not looking at the computer screen or printed page (unless we move them, of course). In the same way, if we’re focused on reading something, or playing with a child or pet, or watching a favorite movie, or enjoying a little time with our partner, or dancing or singing to our favorite music, we’re not focused on the conditioned evaluations that generate the unpleasant emotions described above. Reactions to a given perception or evaluation cannot be present when the perception or evaluation is not present. This includes thinking.

And now, we’d like to invite you to re-read the paragraph above, slowly and carefully. Once you finish re-reading the paragraph above, we invite you to spend at least one full minute considering the implications of this information. Yes. Welcome to the very real possibility of the end of suffering in experience. When we say that Living Unbound is “Freedom Beyond Imagination”, what we actually mean is that Living Unbound is Freedom Beyond Imagination.

We’ll experience for ourselves: when we focus our thoughts on something other that the addictive thinking, the evaluations which intensify our sense of craving, and/or which hold a given emotion in place, the intensity of the anger or sadness or the craving will decrease.

You’ll even be surprised at how the emotions arising disappear., once we become used to shifting our attention away from the evaluations which generate suffering. Thinking mind is programmable. Conditioning is the programming. We can retrain our thinking and focus to follow new, healthier patterns. Practicing this technique diligently, we experience something amazing: we’re not slaves. Not to people, not to circumstances, or chemicals, or behaviors, or even our own thoughts. This technique has been proven “on the ground” in countless lives where Living Unbound is intended; within programs dedicated to recovery from addiction, within all major religions, and within all wisdom traditions.  This is because this technique works in harmony with how thinking, attention and consciousness actually operate. Once the evaluation-based triggers begin dissolve via the repeated practice of shifting attention, every time we do it, the strength of the cravings or habitual thinking decreases a bit more. It is literally being replaced with awareness of our ability to shift attention in the same exact way we can shift where we focus our sight, or our hearing. It may take a bit of time for the trigger to be completely gone, depending on how much hold the mental habit has on us, but every day, with consistent daily practice of this technique, the strength of the cravings and the habitual thinking reduce. We have almost all experienced feeling irritated by an intrusive, unwanted noise. If the noise continues or increases, our irritation usually continues and increases. But what if the noise stops? “Problem solved.” Same principle here: when attention shifts, the emotions and stress arising from our constricted, disturbed thinking dissolve; they cannot be present any more than the irritation we feel as our reaction to our own evaluation of the presence of a loud noise can exist in the absence of that noise. Unless, of course, we persist in thinking about the noise after it stops. And now that we know that shifting our attention away from these kinds of thoughts is as effective for thinking, as the stopping of an intrusive noise is for our hearing, we can begin to realize that mind is a sense and not a self, and thus, begin to move more clearly and surely into Living Unbound in reality.

It’s a beautiful dynamic: the very tendency which caused us to feel enslaved: the reactions to the temporary focus of our attention, becomes the very aspect which frees us from feeling enslaved, and helps us to experience that ultimately, mind is a sense, and not a self. Mind, is a tool we can use, just like smell, taste, sight, touch and hearing; mind is not our master. It’s a wonderful, liberating feeling., experiencing this power, this freedom, that is always actually available.  Try this technique, and enjoy it, too.

Another helpful reminder is to HALT, an acronym standing for “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired”, and which reminds us of the 4 circumstances that tend to make almost all of us more susceptible to triggers. These triggers can be related to addictive cravings,  obsessive thinking, emotional outbursts, depressive thinking; whatever the reaction of conditioned thinking may be. These are the times when we need to HALT from the direction we’re headed, with our unpleasant conceptual evaluations. These are the times when it’s most important to HALT, and use the 15-20 minute Shifting Attention Technique, described above. If we notice when we have the strongest cravings, or the most susceptibility to engage in evaluations which generate further unpleasant thinking, it will be during one of these circumstances, more likely than not.

Resisting cravings, triggers or other so-called temptations at such times works even less well than resistance usually does. “What we resist, persists”, as almost all of us have experienced and re-experienced, countless times. Shifting Attention on the other hand, can’t “not work”. Just as eyes move where sight is directed, and ears tune in to where hearing is directed, thinking moves where attention is directed. Thinking is the car, attention is the steering wheel. Letting the car tell us where we’re going is a good way to end up in some fairly unpleasant and even boring places, because thinking, the car, only knows where it thinks we’ve been. Shifting Attention helps us discover that Living is actually always here; Living, Unbound from the story that the car (thinking) is driving us where it has decided we’re going.

Another system that can help a lot with transcending the basis for all addictive thinking and behavior is Real Love, developed by Greg Baer, M.D.

Greg Baer, a former ophthalmologist, who tells his own story of transcending severe addiction and its cause, in his book Real Love, suggests that the primary cause of addiction is as a response to pain; the feelings of emptiness and the lack of what Greg calls Real Love: the awareness of wholeness which comes from true connection with others.

“After extensive interviews with thousands of addicts,” says Dr. Baer, “less than one percent of them fail to respond enthusiastically to this definition of addiction and the clarification of the causes of drug addiction, whereas most of them have had serious problems with the usual definitions and explanations.”

We can’t actually get away from Real Love. Just notice: there’s never a moment that’s completely free of the opportunity to give Real Love in some way, even if just in our thoughts, is there? Real Love is reality. Living Unbound is reality. Shifting Attention is one technique that can help us experience this reality for ourselves.

As an additional Resource, and for further information on Greg Baer and Real Love, please see the Living Unbound overview on Real Love.


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